Some critics of my book “Reign of Error” say that “reformers” are not privatizers. Who, me, they say, in all innocence?
I invite them to read this post by veteran reporter Bobby Tanzilo in Milwaukee. Here is a city with a thriving voucher program, a thriving charter sector, and a shrinking public school system (that contains disproportionate numbers of students with disabilities and English learners who are unwanted by the other two sectors).
All of this competition among the three sectors was to produce dramatic improvement, but it didn’t. Milwaukee has had school choice for 23 years. Today, it is one of the lowest performing urban districts on the National Assessment of Educational Progress.
But the business leaders of Milwaukee, Tanzilo writes, want more choice. They want more privatization. They want the entire city school district turned into a “Recovery School District,” to emulate those in New Orleans and Memphis.
The Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce – which has in the past supported stripping the elected school board of its power and drawing away funding from Milwaukee Public Schools to pay for private and religious school vouchers – sponsored a pair of PowerPoint presentations on education that were shown to its members in August.
These slideshows touted the so-called “recovery districts” in New Orleans and Memphis and suggest to me – and others I’ve spoken to – that rumors that the group is pushing the recovery district idea for Milwaukee are true.
Recovery districts are public school systems that have had their autonomy and local control usurped by state capitols at the urging of corporate school reformers whose goal is to privatize public schools. The districts are then turned over to private, outside entities that are accountable to no one … or at least not us citizens and parents.
In short, they want to eliminate public education in Milwaukee altogether. They should do their homework. Even the Cowen Institute at Tulane–which supports charter schools–acknowledges that 2/3 of the charters in New Orleans are low-performing schools. And the so-called Achievement District in Memphis is too new to have any meaningful results.
The bottom line is that the business and civic leaders in Milwaukee think that the best way to improve the schools is to abolish public education and privatize control of all the schools. They have not a scintilla of evidence for doing so. The charter sector and the voucher sector in Milwaukee do not outperform the struggling public sector.
What is it that appeals to Milwaukee’s leaders? The absence of any democratic role in public education?